woodblock print of nervous system

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a progressive, inflammatory disease that attacks the central nervous system: the brain and spinal cord.  Specifically, MS degrades the myelin sheath, the fatty insulating layer which encases our nerve fibers, and which facilitates speedy and coordinated transmission along neural pathways.  As you can imagine, when these transmissions get messed up, a lot of stuff we take for granted gets messed up as well: thinking, breathing, movement, speech, balance, sensation, and control of autonomic bodily functions.

The vast majority of people who study MS these days consider it an autoimmune disease (i.e. a disease where our immune systems get confused and attack parts of us, namely the myelin sheath).  Some, however, believe that MS is in fact caused by problems of the inner machinery of cells of the nervous system.  For the most part, this paper will work under the assumption that MS is, if not entirely, at least primarily autoimmune.

Mainstream medicine hasn’t quite figured out what to do about MS.  Although there are pharmaceuticals which can help, mainstream medicine is still a long way from a cure.  So it’s not surprising that MS tends to attract a certain type of blindly eager “alternative medicine,” often well-intentioned, usually clueless, claiming to offer sundry “miracle cures” and “secrets they don’t want you to know about.”  Beware the hucksters and their exclamation points!!!!!!

While on the flip side, partisans of the medical establishment line up to deny that anything outside of the mainstream could possibly be of value[1].

So how do you wade your way through all the hype, both pro and con?  Well, my first step when looking for new research is always PubMed, the National Institutes of Health’s on-line medical database (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez).  Well, PubMed wasn’t as much help as I had hoped on this one, either.  Lots of research on alternative medicine for MS, true, but more than half of it, it seems, is on marijuana.  No point going into that here.

Wading through all the junk, however, there actually are some legitimate recommendations for MS, many of which have solid research behind them.  There are ways to reduce the damage, protect the nervous system, and head off some of the symptoms.  But before I go into all that (next month), I want to talk about one of my favorite herbs, one which doesn’t have any decent research behind it, and which people are nonetheless calling a “secret miracle cure.”  Oh well; here goes:

The Pacific plant Noni (Morinda citrifolia) went from an almost-unheard-of ethnobotanical curio to an herbal superstar almost overnight about ten years ago, thanks to the Oprah show, when a woman got on claiming she’d been badly ailing, and that noni juice had cured practically everything.

For a few years afterwards, noni was one of the hottest-selling supplements in the U.S., supported by claims flying left and right that it cured everything, all the time.  Eventually, however, people began to catch on that it didn’t cure everything, all the time, and sales tapered off.

Well, I’m here to tell you that noni does in fact cure almost anything just not all the time.  I’ve seen noni help overactive and underactive thyroids, arthritis, elevated cholesterol, chronic allergies, suppressed immune systems, overactive immune systems, low energy, diabetes and diabetic ulcers, eczema, and a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting.  (For whatever reason, dogs with cancer seem to do great on the stuff, too).  However, quite a few people I’ve known have tried noni for some or all of those conditions and found no benefit at all.  It all depends on why people are ailing: the type of overactive or underactive thyroid, the type of arthritis, etc.

Noni appears to have an immune-balancing effect[2], and insofar as a chronically out-of-whack immune system can produce these symptoms, noni will probably help.  Every once in a while, our immune systems can sort of get in a rut, repeating the same inappropriate behavior over and over again and in doing so, reinforce their own behavior.  Noni can break that cycle.

Noni juice is worth trying in MS, and indeed in any autoimmune or chronic allergic condition.  Whereas almost everything else will be palliative (i.e. reducing symptoms), noni has a shot to actually get at the root cause of what’s going on.    A standard dose is one tablespoon morning and night, on an empty stomach.


[1] Here’s an example: a research paper published in the May/June 2004 issue of Psychopathology set out to determine if people with MS were more prone to “magical ideation” (i.e. “having delusions”), and led with the following: “In MS patients… magical ideation might be a characteristic way of thinking. Proof for this may be the high frequency of alternative treatments used by individuals with MS” (italics added).  So now taking vitamins is “proof” that you’re crazy…

[2] It appears to restore a healthy balance between Th1 and Th2 helper T subsets, when one or the other has established dominance, perpetuated through positive feedback mechanisms.